The Alexandrian Mystics
For the early Christians, mysticism wasn’t esoteric. It was their lifeblood.
Alexandria Egypt, between 250 and 450 AD had the greatest number of monastic Christian communities the world has ever known. During this time. Alexandria valued monastic disciplines and cultivated mystics as no other city before or since. Alexandrians honored the experience of monks above the hierarchy of clergy. The authority of the Alexandrian theology was rooted in monastic experience and silent prayer.
Alexandrian mystics went into profound detail about the mystical union of Jesus’ full divinity and full humanity.
The Paradox of Jesus
Some rationalists will think The Jesus Paradox (Jesus is “at once God and human”) of the Alexandrian Mystics is like trying to push two solid objects into the same space. They’ll think, “in order to make room for more of one you have to carve out some of the other. Jesus can’t be fully divine and fully human at the same time. That’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make any sense.” These thinkers have made reason a prison.
Theology at its best eventually asks the impossible. It asks us to put stock in the ridiculous and to trust absurdity. Interestingly, quantum physics does the same thing. When we finally accept absurdity, the knots in our minds fall away. Quantum physics and Jesus according to the Mystics both take us to the very limits of reason. This is where profound faith begins. This faith isn’t simple certitude, but what can be called paradoxical certitude. We have conviction. But our conviction is like a flowing river. And we never step into the same river twice. As Thomas Merton once put it, “it is in the paradox itself, the paradox which was and is still a source of insecurity, that I have come to find the greatest security.”
Paradox isn’t irrational. It’s pre-rational or trans-rational. In other words, aspects of it can be grasped by the reasoning mind. Yet ultimately, reason and logic are transcended. Paradox balances the hubris that reason is the supreme and only way – that reason is the be-all and end-all of knowing.
For Christians, that Jesus riddle takes us beyond the persistent dualisms. He is mortal, yet immortal. He is God, yet human. He is both Creator and creature. He died. Yet he lives. In him there is defeat and victory.
Jesus is a symbol of self-renunciation and suffering as well as a sign of ultimate salvation and a binding joy. He is emptiness and fullness.
Comparing God’s Transcendence and Immanence
God is both being and nonbeing, is everywhere and nowhere, has many names and can’t be named, is everything and nothing. God is mystery, surpassing the senses and all knowledge, and yet God is at the core of our being. God is unknowable, yet we meet God face to face.
Can God be evident in all things (immanence) and miraculously burst through the veil once it in a while (transcendence)? Can God be in the everyday stuff of life and take human form? Can God inspire writers who shed light on eternal truths, yet are fallible and culturally conditioned (see I Corinthians 7, 2 Corinthians 11: 17)? I would say “Yes.” Yet, most can only tolerate one interpretation or the other. Some try to limit God’s transcendence, denying God ever intervenes in history. Others try to limit God’s immanence, claiming God has only intervened at set times and is no longer available to us today as to the prophets of old. Yet, no matter how hard we try we can’t limit the infinite. And God will burst out of any box or category. The nature of the infinite is to foil our pigeonholing schemes. God’s human incarnation jettisons all limitations on our imagination. Somehow Jesus is both transcendent God and immanent human.
God is in the stuff of everyday life, Yet God is also in the fullness of time. Historical Christianity has lacked appreciation for God in everyday life and for the sanctity of life (Saint Francis of Assisi, the Celts, and Christian Mystics are exceptions). Yet some Christians today are taking the everydayness of God too far, to the point of denying God’s transcendence altogether. Both Gods transcendence and immanence are important. Our faith is poorer if we emphasize one to the detriment of the other.
This is the paradox: God is available in the present moment (imminent) and God is beyond anything we can imagine (transcendent). God is in the world and all the stuff of life. At the same time God transcends and is ultimately beyond anything we can conceive.
Listening to Your Intuition
When reason tries to formulate a consistent system of thought, there’s always a non-rational element that won’t fit the system. This is the nature of human thought. A religious worldview makes room for what doesn’t fit. It allows for mystery. It makes room for a more.
The religious worldview says there’s more to life than meets the eye. There’s more to life than can be explained with our five senses. Throughout the ages the intuition of our ancestors has acknowledged transcendence. And paradox is the Mystics ticket to transcendence.
Paradox moves beyond the limitations of reason into the realm of intuition. It is amazing how much we rely on intuition, but how little we acknowledge it. It is often small turns of events based on intuition that most change the course of history. For instance, if a timely book decrying antisemitism had come out before Hitler’s rise to power it may have tipped popular sentiment against him. There’s no way of knowing. But history hinges on relatively insignificant events such as the impulse to write a book.
Intuition isn’t a light bulb that goes off inside our heads. It’s a flickering candle that reason can easily snuff out. The Alexandrian Mystics fanned the flicker into an enduring flame, then set the flame in the center of the.
The age of rationalism discounts intuition. It encourages us to separate everything out—to delineate our thought. The timeline is the classic example. We think historically. We are always reverting to the past or setting goals for the future. Everything we do is falls somewhere along a trajectory. We miss the ironies under our noses—that out of nothing came something and we’re part of that mystery, which can be found nowhere outside of now! When we drink in the mystery long enough, we come alive, we become like children, we regain our sense of humor, our pulse quickens, our eyes open.
We’re hardwired for reason and intuition, for science and God. The two complement each other.
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When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:13-15
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. (Acts 4:24)
Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:3-4)
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Rom 12:12)
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Eph 6:18)
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Col 4:2)
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. (Heb 5:7)
Healing the Divide; Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots by Amos Smith